(4) How Big Ben defies Socrates #KNOWLEDGEMATTERS

Other | Friday 18th January 2019 | Saskia

So, this Gettier-guy had applied for a teaching job at Wayne State University in Detroit. However, he only produced a few publications. Therefore, he was asked to publish something, anything he could think of. He did. A three-page long paper which completely refuted the definition of knowledge until today.


How did he do that? He used a confounded example in which he showed that something is not knowledge even though it is true justified belief. I will use a simpler example here, because his is unreasonably complicated:


We all know that Big Ben will be silent for a while now, but the typical tourist might not know that. Also, the typical tourist will be very upset about not hearing Big Ben during their stay in London. That is why a guy called Allan during a cloak and dagger operation has set up speakers which will play the melody at every time Big Ben would actually ring. Wayne - a tourist from Vienna – unaware of the speakers, hears Big Ben and thinks that he knows that he just heard Big Ben ringing.


Hence, Wayne heard the typical melody of Big Ben coming from the direction of Big Ben, he has a reason to believe that he just heard Big Ben ringing and thus has a justified belief.


Fake news!”, you might most probably scream now. Wayne is lacking knowledge since he did not really hear Big Ben, but some speakers. However, do not rush to conclusions so rashly because here is where Gettier`s refutation gets crazy. As a matter of fact, Allan`s speaker were broken that day and it is because it is New Year`s Eve that Big Ben is ringing now. Therefore, Wayne actually heard Big Ben ringing and thus has a TRUE justified belief. “But, but, but, Wayne was just very lucky that Big Ben rang and mere coincidence is not knowledge!”, you could object now.

And you would be right because that is exactly what Gettier said in order to refute Socrate`s definition. Even though Wayne has a true justified belief, something unknown is lacking in order to qualify his belief as knowledge.


Ever after Gettier`s refutation, Philosophers have tried to come up with a new definition for knowledge. Let me introduce you to some well and also to some less minded new definitions next time.


Pssssst, check out my other articles about knowledge:


Knowledge - Philosophical Bullshit?

Let`s start with Socrates - with whom else? 

Fake news and the truth, nothing but the truth

Fixing infinity

Internalism or Externalism? Starting with a big bang